Enjoying those Trump Hotel profits, America? | Editorial

Last Jan. 11, in a moment of pointless stagecraft, Donald Trump and his attorney made an elaborate show of how transparent his business empire would be once he occupies the Oval Office, devising a strategy that would help everyone forget the Emoluments Clause.
 
That's the constitutional provision that prohibits a federal official from receiving anything of value (gifts, profits, etc.) from a foreign government without the approval from Congress.
 
"He is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotel to the United States Treasury," attorney Sheri Dillon chirped. "This way, it is the American people who will profit."

It hardly mattered that this arrangement didn't address the emoluments violation. The president still had to divest his ownership of hotels, ethics experts said, because foreign governments still could directly stuff his bank account just by buying a bagel in the hotel coffee shop.
 
But Dillon thought she'd mollify the unwashed masses by pretending they would benefit in some disjointed and impalpable way.
 
As it turned out, Trump isn't taking that part of the arrangement seriously, either.

In fact, the Trump Organization told Congress two weeks ago that it cannot determine what profits come from foreign governments, because it's too hard to calculate.
 
And no, there aren't any audits scheduled.
 
So those Americans eager to profit from Trump's hotels are just out of luck.
 
Meanwhile, Trump properties still lease office space to state-owned companies and rent hotel rooms and suites to foreign embassies.

Only recently did the House Oversight Committee - chaired by a Republican, Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) - follow up on the scam. On April 21, the committee asked the Trump Organization for documents that showed the steps it is taking related to that promise about donating profits to the Treasury.
 
The organization sent back one email that essentially said it would be "premature" to produce those documents, because final determinations won't take place until the end of the year.
 
The response to a second inquiry was a glossy, 8-page pamphlet that included this extraordinary dictum:
 
"To fully and completely identify all patronage at our Properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand."
 
In other words, the Trump Organization does not try to identify customers who don't voluntarily inform the hotel that they represent a foreign government.
 
Nor will the company attempt to identify emoluments.
 
Hopefully, everybody is OK with this.
 
The oversight committee's ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), is not.
 
In a letter to Trump's compliance lawyer, he wrote, "Complying with the United States Constitution is not an optional exercise, but a requirement for serving as our nation's President," and he suggested that if this exercise is too challenging, Trump's options are to "divest his ownership or submit a proposal to Congress to ask for our consent."
 
It is already gobsmacking that Trump is permitted to violate the Emoluments Clause. Some constitutional scholars, including Laurence Tribe of Harvard, have argued for months that he should face impeachment because his global assets make him vulnerable to pressure from countries where he has properties.
 
This should also be a recurring issue at each town hall, because members of Trump's party should be forced to explain how they can justify flouting the Constitution. Russia isn't the only foreign influence in our government. It should be assumed that it occurs in any country where Donald Trump receives financial rewards for doing business.

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